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SXSW: 'Beyond Clueless' journeys into the teenage wasteland

Illustration by Hattie Stewart. Illustration by Hattie Stewart.

First-time filmmaker Charlie Lyne came to SXSW to premiere "Beyond Clueless," his exploration of teen movies. Less a traditional, talking heads doc than a lyrical, fluid examination of the genre, Lyne gives the scholarly and artistic treatment to a class of films usually excluded from such pursuits, with narration by Fairuza Balk visuals from more than 200 teen not-quite classics.

How has it been, bringing your first film to SXSW?
What's nice is it feels like we're repeating kind of the experience of doing the Kickstarter now because it's going out to a load of people who have no idea who any of us are but have some bearing on this subject matter. They have some sort of built-in interest in the subject of teen movies because most people tend to have that. Everyone has that film that they grew up watching and obsessing over, and usually it's a film that is quite singular to them.

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So is "Clueless" that movie for you?
"Clueless" is a film I completely love and certainly growing up it was one of my five or 10 that I would go back to again and again and again, but actually the ones I always found more fascinating were the ones that, for lack of a better word, aren't quite as good as "Clueless." The teen genre for me is most fascinating when it doesn't quite work, you know? There's plenty of teen movies that I think are unequivocally brilliant — wouldn't change a thing, perfect movies — stuff like "Clueless," stuff like "Cruel Intentions," that just really work and know themselves. But the teen movies that I find fascinating are the ones that aren't quite there, that have so much buried beneath the skin but don't quite know what they are. There's so much more going on that even the film itself isn't really aware of — which perfectly mirrors the experience of being a teenager.

"Beyond Clueless" director Charlie Lyne. "Beyond Clueless" director Charlie Lyne.

So a film with an identity crisis?
Exactly. So many of them seem to have these palpable identity crises going on inside them. Something like "Idle Hands." A film about a teenage boy who has an attractive girl move in next door and suddenly finds that he can't control his right hand — it doesn't seem like a stretch to say that's a metaphor for something. And yet you look back at the way people talked about it when it first came out and there's nothing about that. It's all just, "Devon Sawa is reasonably OK in this middling horror vehicle."

They seem to go in cycles of popularity, teen movies.
Almost to the year, you can watch how it's 10 years on, five years off. So you have 1982 to 1989, roughly — massive. John Hughes, Brat Pack, the famous teen movie era that people still talk about as being a kind of golden age. Huge. And then you look at 1990 to 1994, almost nothing. Even the films that are there don't feel like teen movies exactly as we know them. They feel like sort of hangovers from the '80s, like people trying to make John Hughes teen movies five years late. And then it takes a couple of films — "Clueless" — to rejuvenate that, and suddenly you have another 10 years where it's just on and it's huge again, and you have more teen movies produced in a smaller amount of time than ever before. And then of course it dies again. And I was unlucky. All these movies that I've made the film about are the ones that I was watching on VHS and DVD when I was growing up. But actually the ones that were in cinemas when I was a teenager were kind of awful.

The teen market is also one that never really goes away, as far as Hollywood is concerned.
Surely it's the one film genre that openly states who it's for in its very title. I love that about it, I think there's something really interesting about films that are explicitly marketed toward the most malleable, impressionable group. And why wouldn't they be the most fascinating to talk about when they have so much power over people? I think everyone would be willing to admit that they were in at least some way shaped by the films that they saw at that age. That was what was brilliant and terrifying about doing this film, was watching all these films that I unthinkingly took on at 13 and going, "Oh God, what awful lessons was I learning? What was I accepting about myself on the basis of this film?" So it's been good therapy. I'm now a functional human being after going through my teen movie demons.

 
 
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